Home Office orders review of student migration impact

Home secretary also indicates that ONS will set out plan to improve government’s use of administrative data next month

New exit checks introduced last year have revealed that the number of students overstaying their visas has been overstated. Credit: PA

By Richard Johnstone

25 Aug 2017

The government has launched a review into the impact of student migration after new border checks data found that the number of students overstaying their visa was only around 4,600, much less than previously thought.

Home secretary Amber Rudd has asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to undertake the study into students' economic and social impact, after exit checks introduced last year revealed that the number of students overstaying had been overstated.

Previous estimates through the international passenger survey (IPS), which is used to estimate the flows of people both in and out of the UK, showed a large gap between arrivals and departures of foreign nationals who come to the UK to study. Recent figures from the IPS showed 131,000 students from non-EU countries arriving, with only 38,000 leaving, a gap of 93,000 people that could include people having stayed beyond their visas – although it also includes people who have other legal rights to remain.


However, new border check data from the Home Office has revealed that in 2016-17, 181,000 student visas expired, with 176,400 known to have left. This leaves the likely amount of over stayers at 4,600, just under 5% of the previous estimate.

Rudd called for a review after the new figures were published, which she says shows that “the overwhelming majority of students whose visa expired in 2016/17 were recorded as having left in time”.

She said the MAC had never undertaken a full assessment of the impact of international students and, given the new exit checks data, the government now wants an objective assessment for both EU and non-EU international students.

“This assessment should go beyond the direct impact of students in the form of tuition fees and spending, including consideration of their impact on the labour market and the provision and quality of education provided to domestic students,” she stated in a letter to the MAC.

“This should give the government an improved evidence base for any future decisions whilst the ONS goes through the process of reviewing the contribution it thinks students are making to net migration.”

The MAC has been asked to report back by September 2018.

Rudd’s letter also confirms that the Office for National Statistics will be publishing plans next month to overhaul the use of administrative data in Whitehall.

The ONS has been working to improve the quality of international student statistics and the Home Office will be undertaking further work to improve the use of administrative data, she said.

"This will lead to a greater understanding of how many migrants are in the UK, how long they stay for, and what they are currently doing,” said Rudd. “The ONS will be publishing an article in September setting out this fuller work plan and the timetable for moving towards this landscape for administrative data usage.”

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